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Physical activity treatment for youth with mental health disorders

About the project

This research project targets current detrimental shifts in youth mental health, which now pose significant problems for the individual, society and public health services. Mental health problems and disorders in children and youth have increased during the last three decades and prevalence rates of mental health disorders in youth are high (app. 17 %). Mental health problems lead to short and long-term disability, reduced quality of life, psychiatric and somatic comorbidity, loss of education and work and reduced life-span. Specialized child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and services are struggling to cope with the many youths in need of treatment, and current treatment outcomes for the main disorders in youth, anxiety, and depression, are sub-optimal.

To address this dire situation, we have developed a novel cross-disciplinary transdiagnostic physical activity-based group treatment approach targeting youth with anxiety and depression. The intervention is designed to address youths’ mental health problems and physical health concurrently, aiming to improve treatment outcomes, hinder relapse and thus supplement existing treatment. The treatment is named Confident, Active and Happy Youth, CAHY.

Research project

The developed intervention has undergone feasibility testing with both the protocol and results published (Kodal et al., 2022, & 2024).

A randomized controlled trial of the intervention is under way.

If successful, our developed treatment may change and improve the way we deliver standard care to large groups of patients. This change will have a direct effect on patients receiving the intervention and their families, both in a short-term perspective but hopefully also in a long-term perspective, contributing to improved health trajectories.

Furthermore, the intervention can pave the way for using physical activity treatment with other common mental health (e.g. ADHD and Autism spectrum disorders) and somatic disorders (e.g. obesity, cancer survivors, diabetes) in specialized healthcare.

Research associates

The project has gathered a highly competent core research group comprising international and national resources and consists of:

Principal Investigator, PhD Arne Kodal

Professor Irene Elgen, University of Bergen, Norway.

Professor Kjell Morten Stormark, Norce Research, RKBU Vest, Norway.

Professor Gro Janne Wergeland, University of Bergen, Norway.

Professor John J. Reilly, Strathclyde University, Scotland.

Professor Fiona Muirhead, Strathclyde University, Scotland.

Assistant professor, Lars Peder V. Bovim, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway.

Regional health authorities are involved in the project, including, Helse Bergen, Helse Stavanger, Helse Førde, Helse Fonna.

User involvement is at the forefront of the research project. Users have been key to the development of the intervention and are highly involved in continued research and dissemination of results.

Running Athletic Women


  • Anker, E., Sture, S., Hystad, S., Kodal, A.  (In review). The effect of psychical activity on anxiety symptoms among children and adolescents with mental health disorders: A research brief. Frontiers in Pschyiatry.

  • Kodal, A. Muirhead, F., Reilly, J., Wergeland,G. J., Thorsen, P. J. B., Bovim, L. P., Elgen, I. (2024), Feasibility of a physical activity intervention for children and adolescents with anxiety and depression. Pilot Feasibility Studies, 10, 49 (2024).

  • Fjermestad, Krister., Arnevåg, Sofie F., Öst, Lars-Göran, Kodal, Arne, Bjastad, Jon F., Heiervang, Einar R., Wergeland, Gro Janne H., (2023). Treatment motivation in child anxiety treatment – factor structure and associations with outcomes, Psychiatry Research Communications.

  • Bjaastad, Jon Fauskanger, Gjestad, Rolf, Fjermestad, Krister, Öst, Lars-Göran, Haugland, Bente Storm Mowatt, Kodal, Arne, Heiervang, Einar R., Wergeland, Gro Janne Henningsen (2023). Adherence, competence and alliance as predictors of long-term outcome in CBT for anxiety disorders in youth. Research on Child and Adolescent Psychopathology.

  • Kodal, A. Muirhead, F., Reilly, J., Wergeland,G. J., Thorsen, P. J. B., Bovim, L. P., Elgen, I. (2022), Development and feasibility testing of a physical activity intervention for youth with anxiety and depression. Pilot and Feasability Studies

Almene populær vitenskapelig publikasjoner:

  • Kodal, Arne. (2022). Dagens Medisin, 4. Maj.  Livet i Miniatyr.

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